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A qualitative analysis of enablers and barriers to physical activity among college students

Mary L. Greaney, PhD1, Faith D. Lees, MS2, Seung-Yeon Lee, PhD3, Breanna L. Norsworthy, RD4, Sarah F. Dayton, MA5, Sharon L. Hoerr, PhD, RD3, Jennifer L. Roy, BS6, Adrienne A. White, PhD, RD6, and Geoffrey W. Greene, PhD, RD4. (1) Public Health Nutrition, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, 617-432-4028, mgreaney@hsph.harvard.edu, (2) University of Rhode Island, Cancer Prevention Research Center, Kingston, RI 02881, (3) Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition, Michigan State University, G. Malcom Trout FSHN Building, Room 204, East Lansing, MI 48824, (4) Department of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Rhode Island, Ranger Hall, Kingston, RI 02881, (5) School of Management, Syracuse University, SOM- Suite 2000, Syracuse, NY 13244, (6) Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Maine, 5735 Hitchner Hall, Orono, ME 04469

Sixteen focus groups were conducted to explore barriers and enablers to physical activity (PA) of college students (n=115) from universities in eight different states. A pilot-tested interview guide was used to lead the online focus groups, which were homogenous by gender. The majority of participants were white (82.5%) and female (54.8%). Using an ecological framework to examine barriers and enablers to PA, we found that intrapersonal barriers included having limited motivation/time, having competing priorities and not seeing immediate changes in shape/size. Intrapersonal enablers included wanting to change body shape/size and feeling better when active. At the interpersonal level, friends were seen as being both a barrier and enabler. Environmental and policy barriers included gym fees, working, and living situations. The geographic layout of campus was seen as enabling PA. Participants stated they would increase PA if they had weight concerns, more free time, additional resources, and greater social support. Appearance was the primary motivator for PA; however, participants recognized the benefits of PA include reducing stress, increasing energy, and improving sleep and mood. Utilizing an ecological model that reinforces factors identified as enablers and reduces perceived barriers would be beneficial in promoting PA among college students. Additionally the proximal benefits of PA that are salient to students (e.g., relieve stress) should be emphasized.

Learning Objectives:

  • By the end of the session, the learner will be able to

    Keywords: College Students, Physical Activity

    Presenting author's disclosure statement:

    Not Answered

    Issues Pertaining to College Health

    The 134th Annual Meeting & Exposition (November 4-8, 2006) of APHA